Evening Express

Scotland goal hero Naismith says he never gave up on Dark Blues recall

Scotland's Steven Naismith celebrates the opener against Albania, which was subsequently given as an own goal against Berat Djimsiti.

Goal hero Steven Naismith insists he never gave up on playing for Scotland.

The Hearts striker bagged the second goal against Albania as the Dark Blues won 2-0 at Hampden to start their UEFA Nations League campaign with a win.

Naismith could have claimed the first goal after his header found the net with a deflection off defender Berat Djimsiti.

At 31 years old the former Norwich City and Rangers forward’s international career could have been at an end, especially after Scotland boss Alex McLeish left him out of the original squad for Friday’s friendly against Belgium and last night’s game.

But call-offs in the squad meant Naismith, pictured, was brought in.

And he said he never gave up hope on playing for his country again after a strong start to the season at Hearts.

Naismith said: “I’d felt I’d given myself as good a chance as possible of getting in the squad.

“I was left out but with the call-offs, the manager phoned and asked me to come in. When that happened, I thought, ‘I have to make an impression here or that’s me done, really’.

“So I worked hard during the week in training.

“If there was a point to be made and the manager wanted to know something, I told him what I thought.

“The manager gave me the opportunity, I was rewarded with a start and I made an impact.

“Was it my last chance? You never know. Circumstances can change.

“If I’d continued on the same way I started the season with Hearts, I would have put pressure on to get in the squad.

“I am just grateful to get a chance and be part of a young squad starting out – just like me 10 years ago.

“It was a great win. It was really enjoyable to be part of that kind of performance.

“A lot of credit goes to the younger boys for the way we played.

“Reading some of the comments after the Belgium game, I was asking myself, ‘Did we not just play the team ranked No2 in the world?’

“They have some fantastic players but we gave them three goals.

“It’s not as if Belgium carved us open all night. We made mistakes.

“But Albania was the main event and it was a big game for a lot of the younger players.”

Even though he is in the later stages of his career Naismith says retiring from international football was never something he considered even when he wasn’t involved in Scotland squads.

He added: “I think I’ll always keep going. If it had an effect on my club career then that’s when you maybe start to think.

“I missed a bit of football last season and then enjoyed it towards the end of the season.

“I’m just going to enjoy every minute of every game I play in.”

Naismith believed he would score against Albania, but despite his impressive display he says he won’t take his place in the squad for granted.

He said: “I knew I would get chances tonight. Even after the one I headed off the post.

“As you get older, you’ve got a bit more calmness about you in the box in those precise moments. That has definitely helped me this season.

“One thing the manager has made clear is that players on form will be picked. You’ve got to go back to your club now and work hard.”

On his goal that wasn’t given, Naismith said: “I scored one, it’s still a good start.

“When you’re playing as a striker with Scotland, the easiest question is about goals, goals, goals.

“Callum McGregor had three or four efforts blocked. If he scored the goals, I don’t care. And I don’t care what anybody says – we’ve won and we’re moving forward.”

Naismith could have had another goal after hitting the post from close range with a header in the first half.

Despite missing that gilt-edged chance he says he kept the belief that he was going to score.

He said: “I thought the defender was going to clear it but he’s left it.

“I saw it at the last minute and just got what I could on it. After that, I still thought I’d get more chances.”